How to practice self-care when caregiving during a lockdown

You are definitely living in an interesting time. Amid nationwide lockdowns, many are experiencing uncomfortable new realities, but caregivers are doubly impacted as caregiving already comes with its own set of challenges.

Freedom of movement has impacted every level of our lives, and the prolonged lockdowns will begin to have serious negative effects on mental health. These could include mood changes, emotional problems, depression, withdrawal and the exacerbation of any pre-existing mental health issues.

Adaptation will take time, as you settle into this new way of bring, but it’s essential that you preserve some normalcy for the sake of your mental and physical well-being. It is natural to feel fear, stress, anxiety, agitation, loneliness and even anger. Slumps in motivation, states of distraction, difficulty concentrating, and a sense of overwhelm could also be added to the mix. Go easy on yourself.

Why is self-care important?

Self-care, although a simple concept in theory, is something we also very often overlook. It needs to become a priority as caregiving strains even the most resilient. All the love or sense of duty will not protect caregivers from the emotional and physical roller coaster journey involved. Research has shown that experiencing mental or emotional strain combined with the physical demands of caregiving places carers at risk for significant health problems.

Self-care is not selfish; in fact, it is the exact opposite. You can’t pour from an empty jug. Think about the oxygen mask instruction on aeroplanes. – the message being that by putting on your own oxygen mask first, you will you then be in a position to help others, without it you are not. Self-care is about taking responsibility for your personal well-being so you can be ready and able to be in service of others.

What is self-care?

Self-care, is deliberately taking care of our well-being through restorative activities that are integrated into your daily life.

In times of lockdown, the number one thing all experts agree on is, it is essential to create a routine. Routines provide structure and normalizes the abnormal. They allow you to feel more in control. Routines support you in making room for what is important and helps you cope with change. Time can be used without it feeling insurmountable. Start small, plan out events and goals, creating clear distinctions between your carer activities and your personal needs, then write them down and stick to them.

So, make self-care part of your routine now. A self-care toolkit will look different for everyone, but here are a few ideas.

1. Breathe – Several times a day, take a moment for a few slow deep breaths. Breathing helps ground and calm us. (This is my go-to practise when I feel overwhelmed, anxious or just plain tired.)

2. Pace yourself – You can only do so much. Use the identifiers of ‘must, should and could’, to help you prioritise.

3. Keep to good health habits –:

· Make sure you are getting enough regular quality sleep. Get into the habit of getting up and going to bed at the same time each day.

· Stay hydrated.

· Eat regularly and healthily. Stay away from fast foods, they have limited nutritional value; rather choose colourful plant-based foods. Learn to cook something new.

· Prioritize aerobic exercise as it is vital for stress reduction. Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi are great for stretching and relaxing. Youtube has home exercise and videos on these practices.

· Limit caffeine, alcohol and addictive substances. They are a crutch and work on the central nervous system. They give you a temporary lift, followed by deeper slump.

· Allow yourself a break – You need down time, and me-time. Make sure that you have some time to yourself to relax or to do something which is just for you. Do calming activities that you enjoy, start reading a book, try journaling, or meditating, listen to music or start an arts-and-crafts project.

§ Take break from information overload and media coverage around Covid-19

§ Seek help and support when you need it – Reach out to others. Every carer needs support be it discuss their feelings, seek advice, or call in additional help.

Social and emotional support.

Lockdown and distancing do not mean social isolation. Social connection and emotional support are vital to our health and wellbeing. Reach out to family, maintain your friendships, and connect with community groups.

Technology has given us an array of tools to reduce our isolation. Call from phones, use WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, whatever you are comfortable with. People are now sharing mealtimes and socials with each other using technology, join the fun.

Summing up

Small changes can help you find a sense of balance as we move through lockdowns. Remember looking after yourself is not a luxury, it is a responsibility, an essential part of maintaining your energy, allowing you to be there for the person you are caring for.

Stay safe and, when these lockdown days are behind you, remember to continue practicing whichever positive strategies worked best for you.

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